The Slumflower Needs Guidance
(From Black Feminists)

Words: Danielle Dash

Upon discovering Chidera Eggerue, also known as The Slumflower, it’s not hard to be pulled into her orbit. In person, Eggerue is as bubbly as her tweets of affirmation and body positivity suggest. Her confidence is infectious and exciting. Watching her star rise as a public speaker and the author of the best-selling self help guide, What A Time To Be Alone, was awe-inspiring. Leading her very own TED Talk (Releasing The Fear Of Being Alone) solidified her position in mainstream publications like Cosmopolitan as “categorically one of the coolest women in Britain” and ELLE, who heralded the South Londoner as “the millennial mastermind.”

Eggerue’s activism is straightforward and welcoming in that her audience are not required to have read academically about feminism to partake in her politics. “First of all, women do not exist for the consumption of men,” reads her Women’s Trust artwork. “You deserve greatness. So give it to yourself,” Eggerue explains in Stylist magazine. SAGGY BREASTS MATTER! Her body positivity campaign exclaims. The clarity of her rhetoric coupled with her image—light skin, big wigs and bra-free breasts, deliberately slung low to inspire and incite—creates a brand to which close to a quarter of a million people on Instagram subscribe.

This simplistic feminism works to grant access for people unfamiliar with the politics but buckles under the greater weight of critical thinking. “The only solution to ensure the safety of women, is for men to not exist,” Eggerue tweeted and later deleted on Father’s Day in June 2018. The tweet attempted to create a discourse around violence against women and challenge the patriarchy on a day created to celebrate fathers. It was a deliberately provocative move designed to garner attention, but the simplicity of the message failed to address wider implications. What would this new world order do with women who uphold the patriarchy and perpetuate its ills? Where would disabled and/or trans people exist in this binary, arbitrary view of the fight against gender violence? Eggerue’s tweet left too much room for ambiguity, conflated men with the patriarchy, and encouraged readers to proffer wild interpretations. “Slumflower says she wants to kill all men,” detractors would be free to claim. There is value in uncomplicated feminism. However, it cannot be expected to do the heavy lifting of thorough critical thinking.

That tweet was an indication of what was to come, but did little to hinder Eggerue’s meteoric rise. In 2018, she went on to be the face of an Adidas x London campaign, much to the chagrin of men (and women) offended by her words. After a recent talk, Eggerue was approached by a white woman, apparently crying, who agreed with her views but wanted her to know “men have it so hard.” This prompted her to share her now-infamous take. “Maybe other people’s feminisms are about making the world better for men. As for me, I don’t have time to think about the reasons why the system you created at my expense to benefit you is now choking you. If men are committing s*icide because they can’t cry, how is it my concern?”

The cruelty therein is a product of both her inability to progress her feminism beyond provocative sensationalism and her refusal to separate men from the patriarchy and toxic masculinity. Esmé Araresa quickly and succinctly diagnosed Eggerue’s problem in a now-popular thread. “You do not need to centre men in order to create a personal culture and a society which preserves you and in which you can prosper on your own terms.” And that could have been it. Araresa handled it by digging down to and investigating the root of Eggerue’s failings.

Alas, the space Eggerue occupies in mainstream, read white, feminism, the column inches she’s racked up in Stylist, ELLE, Cosmo and Vogue somehow emboldened one Zoe Williams to attempt to discipline her in The Guardian. “I’m a fan of the acclaimed young writer known as ‘the Slumflower’. But her sexual creed of exploitation appals me.” And make no mistake: Williams’ article is about herself and her white feminism. While those interested in the discourse were concerned with Eggerue’s comments about male suicide, Williams saw this as an opportunity to exercise two of the most evergreen tenets of cis white woman feminism™; misogynoir (in which a white woman seeks to publicly reprimand a black women for her feminist disobedience) and sex worker exclusionary radical thinking.

In February, Eggerue made a tenuous link between reparations and financially finessing men. “For some of us, being hit with a £150 food shop bill at the till and a man sticking his card in the machine for us is reparations,” the radical feminist claimed. Noted author and PhD student Zoé Samudzi roundly got her together in a succinct thread of tweets that addressed both Eggerue’s misappropriation of sex worker’s theories and her failure to critically engage with what her words meant. “Framing gendered restitution as you and only you getting paid because you’re cute is just neoliberalism.” Between Samudzi and Araresa’s threads, black women had already done the work of producing robust criticism of Eggerue’s feminism. Free from thinly veiled anti-black women diatribe and disdain, these two black women articulated the structural weaknesses in her statements without denigrating other women.

That level of critical thinking would have been too much to ask of Zoe Williams. In her rush to condemn Eggerue, the Guardian columnist simultaneously centres herself and marginalises sex workers. Highlighting tweets Eggerue sent claiming “If he says he loves you, and you are still paying your own bills, you settled for a roommate…” Williams states: “The idea that it would ever be a feminist act to commodify your own sexuality is more than illogical to me, it’s traitorous.” While meaning to rebuke Eggerue, Williams manages to marginalise sex workers. And whether she recognises it or not, in her attempt to decry Eggerue’s statements she reveals herself as anti-feminist.

Claiming sex workers are “traitors” is a form of sex worker exclusionary radical feminism (SWERF). According to Alex Dalbey at The Daily Dot, “SWERFs see sex work as intrinsically degrading”, and that they “criticize sex work industries like pornography, stripping, and camming as contributing to the objectification of women.” Zoe Williams does little to mask her conservatism by dressing up her exclusionary feminism as faux concern.

“No one wakes up woke, and everyone’s activism develops along with their experience of the world.”

Eggerue has long been dogged by claims that she plagiarised the intellectual labour of actual sex workers—misappropriating and attempting to repackage it in her simplistic feminism. But again, the entry-level feminism Eggerue chooses to employ cannot do the heavy lifting experience and thorough critical thinking required for this discourse. Thus, her tweets are clumsy and harmful for her followers unaware of the true genesis of these ideas. By failing to fully analyse and engage with the subject that people were actually talking about this week, and instead choosing to bring stale leftovers to a party that ended, Zoe Williams weaponised her whiteness and the platform it affords her against Chidera Eggerue for financial gain. It is appalling to witness.

If the intention behind this pink in the middle, hyperbolic article was correction, Williams would have done work similar to Esmé Araresa and Zoé Samudzi. If Williams cared about Eggerue, she would have taken the time to accurately identify what the problem was but she instead was content to grasp at low-hanging fruit—the easy target; a black woman who keeps getting it wrong. The Slumflower is not above criticism, but it is important to scrutinise from where said criticism is coming and whether the critic is actually equipped to do that work. Zoe Williams does not possess the range to criticise this black woman, or any marginalised woman for that matter, and has proved she cannot do so without relying on her privilege as a white woman employing misogynoir.

Chidera Eggerue’s Slumflower will continue to flourish—this is little more than a bump in the road. Her desire to monetise her feminism and the desire of brands to capitalise off the cultural capital of a black woman with a platform as big as hers will continue to unite to create clickable content. No one wakes up woke, and everyone’s activism develops along with their experience of the world. Speaking to The Independent, Eggerue claims her intention with the comments about male suicide was to “highlight female oppression.” If this is the case, Eggerue’s feminism is going to have to develop beyond its current nascent form and evolve into a politic that can shoulder that burden. In order for her to fully exercise her feminism, white feminists like Zoe Williams and Jake Hall are going to have to resist the urge to regurgitate theories they’ve half gleaned from Black Twitter for their white audiences, and learn that their voices in black feminist spaces only do damage.

Posted on March 13, 2019